Each week, Rixon Lane will examine South Carolina's overall series against its upcoming opponent and detail three previous wins in the series for the Gamecocks and the seasons in which they occurred.. This week's history lesson features the North Carolina Tar Heels.
South Carolina's series with its neighbors to the north has not always been kinds to the Gamecocks. The Tar Heels hold a 34-18-4 edge in the border rivalry and are 2-0 in neutral site games against South Carolina.
However, South Carolina has won five of the last six contests and hasn't lost to North Carolina since 1991.
Here's a look back at three of South Carolina's victories over the Tar Heels, including a miraculous comeback one of the biggest wins in program history.
Discontent that had been bubbling under the surface between South Carolina head coach Warren Giese and sports editor Jake Penland of The State ever since Giese's arrival in 1956 finally became public during the 1960 season. Giese, a no-nonsense head coach, had routinely closed practices to the media and was often less than talkative in his discussions regarding his football team. Penland took exception and took Giese to task over his bland style of football and South Carolina's knack for losing games against inferior opponents. Incidentally, the Gamecocks had dropped a 19-6 decision to unranked North Carolina in 1959 while boasting a #11 national ranking.
South Carolina was a preseason favorite to win the ACC, but got off to an atrocious start, being outscored 90-12 in its first three games of the season against Duke, Georgia and Miami. The Giese/Penland feud combined with the horrendous start appeared to point to a rough 1960 campaign. North Carolina entered the late-October matchup with a 1-3 record and the Tar Heels were no match for South Carolina's ground game. The Gamecocks racked up 281 rushing yards en route to a 22-6 victory and their first win of the season.
The good vibrations from the UNC win did not carry over. South Carolina lost its next three contests and tied N.C. State before finishing the season with home wins over Wake Forest and Virginia for a record of 3-6-1. Following the season, Giese resigned as head coach and was replaced by assistant Marvin Bass.
Entering the 1968 season, South Carolina had not recorded a winning record since 1959. Third-year head coach Paul Dietzel was finding wins were hard to come by, especially away from Columbia. The Gamecocks had won just two road games in Dietzel's first two seasons.
South Carolina opened the season with a 14-7 loss to Duke and hit the road to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels were coming off back-to-back 2-8 seasons and had been humiliated by N.C. State 38-6 in their season opener. However, UNC looked like a juggernaut through the first three quarters, building a 27-3 lead. That's when Tommy Suggs, South Carolina's 5'8" quarterback making his second career start, went to work. Suggs found Freddie Zeigler for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter. North Carolina fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Tar Heels' fifth fumble of the day, and the Gamecocks capitalized on a Warren Muir touchdown run two plays later to cut the deficit to 27-17. Muir scored again on the ensuing drive and a two-point conversion made it 27-25 with 10 minutes to play. Suggs capped the rally with 4:54 to go, rolling right and scampering four yards to put South Carolina ahead for good, as the Gamecocks held on for a wild 32-27 victory.
Although South Carolina would not finish 1968 with a winning record, the Gamecocks would pick up two more victories on the road that season. The following year, South Carolina would win the ACC for its first conference championship in program history.
Gordon Beckham's and the Almost Perfect Day
Life after George Rogers was difficult for the South Carolina football program. After opening the 1981 campaign with a 2-3 record, the Gamecocks defeated Kentucky and Virginia. South Carolina’s next opponent was North Carolina, the #3 team in America. The Tar Heels had an unblemished 6-0 record and were allowing just eight points per game. UNC had committed just eight turnovers in six games, but South Carolina forced two fumbles and intercepted UNC three times. South Carolina led 21-7 in the third quarter, but North Carolina punter Jeff Hayes rambled 79 yards on a fake punt to the Gamecock lead to 21-13.
Despite giving up the touchdown, the Gamecocks regrouped and went on to win 31-13. South Carolina had never beaten a top-five team and the Gamecocks haven’t beaten a top-five team on the road since. Quarterback Gordon Beckham had a day for the ages, completing 16-for-17 passes, a single-game completion percentage record (.941) that would stand until 2012.
The win was South Carolina’s third consecutive victory over UNC and a win over N.C. State the following week put the Gamecocks at 6-3. However, the Gamecocks then dropped contests against Pacific and Clemson. At 6-5, South Carolina likely would’ve earned a third consecutive bowl bid. However, head coach Jim Carlen had scheduled a 12th game against Hawaii, a team that had moved up to the Division 1-A just six years prior. The Rainbows trounced the Gamecocks by 23 points, South Carolina stayed home for the holidays and Carlen was fired.